|Nostalgia's a truly wonderful thing.|
Once home, the kid frantically looks through the books' early pages to see what he needs to pack in his suitcase for his trip to meet this 'Warlock'. Alas, he instead finds rules on how to roll dice for his Skill, Stamina and Luck scores. This wasn't a book telling him how to find Firetop Mountain and defeat a Dragon after all; it was a book that was also a game! Fortunately, the kid loves books AND games, so the prospect of having both-in-one just about made up for the disappointment of not getting to see a Dragon. After reading the rules, the kid did something all little children do: He rebelled, to the degree where his Skill, Stamina and Luck were all at their highest possible scores. He eventually ended up getting terribly lost in a maze within the mountain, in the end quite relieved when a Minotaur skewered him like a kebab.
2002. The kid, now 2 years wiser (Having spent most of his time becoming the very best, like no one ever was) finds a newer copy of the book he bought back on the turn of the millennium. To his delight, it is now part of a series, with more excitingly-named titles such as The Citadel of Chaos to relieve his parents of more of their cash. Being a naive youngster, the kid is blissfully unaware that there has previously been over 50 other titles in the series; besides, why would he want 'nasty' old looking books when there was now a nice glossy modern 'cool' cover on The Warlock of Firetop Mountain? At this point, a TARDIS materialises inside the Waterstones the kid is currently browsing in, and a late-teen youth steps out, a look of sheer horror on his face. The kid vaguely recognises this new face, in fact, if it weren't for the lack of freckles and the fact this guy's hair was proper blonde, not strawberry blonde, the kid would have easily mistaken this guy for a relative of some sort.
The guy runs up to the kid screaming. The kid tells him to quieten his voice, as shouting was impolite. (Don't you just love kids?) Asking what the guy wants, the kid then tells him that he's going to buy this new version of Warlock and give his old second-hand (Or should it be third-hand?) copy to a charity shop, doing 'the right thing'. The guy frantically pleads with the kid not to do this, as giving away that older book will be something he comes to deeply regret when he's older. Naturally, as all good kids do, the kid completely ignores the exasperated guy's pleas. Realising he's failed, the guy dejectedly trots back to his TARDIS, to head back to the Shadow Proclamation and report his failure. As he departs, he realises his mistake - the kid was totally unfascinated by the TARDIS as he would not even know what one was until early 2005...
Ah, if only the kid knew the value of first editions when he was 9...
|Right class, pay attention...|
Anyway, I'm digressing. I'm writing this just after finishing my last A level exam and can't shake off the feeling of impending doom that surrounds how bad it went. I happen to own 3 copies of Warlock; Both Wizard editions and the 25th special. I decided to use the newest Wizard copy for my playthrough, for the simple reason that these new editions are slightly larger, which means all the illustrations are that little bit bigger. For the most part, this is a good thing, allowing the smaller details of the drawings to be seen better. Right, the rules. Being the first FF book, the rules are the basic standard. This means I have my usual 3 stat rolls, with 10 provisions, and a potion of my choice out of Skill, Stamina and Luck. It is now I spot an interesting new feature with the second Wizard series - The option of choosing a pre-determined character with a name, stats, potion and (albeit brief) backstory. This is pretty nice, although even names as epic as Vignor Firestorm, Haldar Eriksson and Ophelia Lapwing aren't enough to convince me to pick one of them. I assume the latter has been added to keep FF as Unisex as possible, although it must be noted I am yet to find a single member of the fairer sex who enjoys taking a trip to Allansia. More curiosity - All of the pre-determined characters have only 6 provisions for some reason. My character shall be happy with 10. Choosing a vibrant set of fluorescent blue dice to determine my fate, I eagerly lob them across the room to roll my stats.
Skill 11, Stamina 19 and Luck 7. It seems I just can't buy luck, two books in a row with the worst roll for it. But wait! I may not be able to buy it, but I CAN drink it! The potion of Fortune will not only take me back to my initial score, but also add 1 to it with each swig, of which I get two. Happy days. Time for the introduction; the starter course that gives you a little taste of who you are and why you're doing whatever it is the book gets you doing. Ah. Steve and Ian haven't exactly come up with an ambitious tale here; basically you're a greedy bastard who wants gold, and have heard of rumours that the Warlock keeps a chest full of the stuff deep within his lair inside Firetop Mountain. There's got to be an easier way to make some money, surely??!?!! Now all that was left was to name my character. Steve Livingstone or Ian Jackson? Decisions decisions...
|Gentlemen, I command you to fight to|
the death for the honour of naming my character.
Some half an hour and many internal debates later, I tossed a coin. Ian Jackson it is. Turning to paragraph 1, I am informed that Ian has just finished a 2 day hike. Pfft, not even a bead of sweat on me, this hiking business is a piece of cake! Lighting my lantern, I enter the cave face in front of me, and enter the mountain. Ah, a 'Go West or Go East' choice. This reminds me why my 7 year-old self got so frustrated with Warlock; most kids don't have the patience to get into the intricacies of drawing a map to help them out. I toss a coin again; West it is. A Goblin sentry guard is asleep on the job (Tsk, just can't get the staff, can you Zagor?) Remarkably for a Luck of 7, I remain lucky and don't ruin the Goblin's dreams of... whatever a Goblin dreams of. I like to think it might involve exploding Sheep. Just along the path, I come across a door, and open it, as you do. I've found the guard's restroom, complete with another sleeping Goblin! Man, these guys are lazy buggers. Zagor should invest in some more exotic guards, like those exploding sheep the current guards dream of. It'd be like having a wolf in sheep's clothing, only without the wolf, which surely makes it even more fool-proof. Somehow passing a luck test with only luck 6 (These fluorescent blue dice are awesome!) I steal a box with a mouse and a single gold coin in. Ian releases the mouse, which is a pity as peaceful company is hard to come by in any FF book. However, pleasingly freeing this mouse gets me 2 luck points back, returning me to my not-so-gargantuan starting stat of 7.
|Open me, I dare you.|
Another door. Ian and Steve hadn't got inventive with their writing yet, which is understandable, as this is their first effort. Doors are always just screaming to be opened, so I oblige. Another box. Hmm. This is more tedious than I recall Warlock being this early on. Fortunately, I am instantly thrust into action by opening this box, as a small Snake jumps out and tries to bite me. After how this quest has started, I am almost overcome with joy at being attacked! Almost sadly, the Snake offers next to no resistance, and I'm left alone in a mountain with a box in my hand again. Ooh, what's this? A key is in the bottom of the box, inscribed with the number 99. Even if I hadn't played Warlock before, I'd assume this was important. As it is, I vaguely remember needing 3 such numbered keys to open Zagor's chest of wonders, (Treasure chest that is, I doubt his actual chest is particularly wondrous) so this seems like a good start. You'll never believe what Ian stumbled across next!...
Ok, I lied. It's another door. This door comes with an interesting description of a terrible racket coming from within, though. Despite this, I decide that curiosity shall be the death of me eventually and open it. Alohomora would come in pretty handy right now. Inside are 2 drunk and decidedly un-jolly Orcs. Owing to their intoxicated state, they proved as much trouble as that Snake. Still, I feel a bit guilty killing Orcs who were just enjoying themselves, but hey; Nobody wins an FF book by playing the nice guy! I clean my sword of the green blood that has emerged on it during my scuffle; Got to have some standards of cleaning, right? Then I notice a box. At this point I imagine Steve and Ian are laughing at me, being foolish enough to stumble across every door and box there is. Ah, I remember this too. Farrigo Di Maggio's spell of beating Dragons. I forget exactly what it does, but I do remember it being useful. Ian Jackson then breaks the monotony of finding doors and opening them by coming to a junction in the cave. This time I go east.
|And they say that old people are scared of the young...|
Hooray! The portcullis opens, and I advance to level 2. (In my mind I do at least) A wooden bench invites me to rest, which I would if I weren't already at full stamina. Not much has happened yet and I feel quite safe albeit lost. Happily, this soon changes due to a lack of free will in a choice. This time I open a door without being given the option and am rudely attacked by a Barbarian. He proves my most challenging opponent yet by virtue of actually wounding me, albeit only once. In his room he has a wooden mallet which I pick up in the hope I get the option to play Croquet at some point later on. At last this adventure was starting to get some variation; I came across a room with ornate marble flooring and some paintings. Not being able to tell the difference between a Monet and a Van Gogh I neglect to stay and study the paintings. Ian then has one of his provisions, as his Pork Pie provision is starting to go a bit green. (That and the fact eating a provision will finally have an effect!) Next up is an apparently awkward room to walk across, although I'm unsure as to why. Rope. Rope is one of the eternally useful objects in the FF world, always coming to the aid of an adventurer at some point.
|Do not be fooled by it's commonplace |
appearance; this is some deadly shit.
|Worry no longer, I have found the Rum.|
Searching the rest of the crypt, I find a book about... something; there is no indication as to its contents. I also find 30 gold pieces and am sorely tempted to swim back across the lake to pay the Boatman. Oh yes, and a Y-shaped stick. For the 4th time in as many minutes I find myself smiling at the absurdity of something. Ian and Steve have done a good job of keeping the player amused while they get hopelessly lost. Following a series of corridors I 'Cautiously descend the stairs...' The presence of ellipsis does a surprisingly good job of building tension (at least for me) so kudos to Ian/Steve for putting that in. I have no idea who wrote that particular paragraph. Suddenly that freckled kid materialises in my living room, screaming at me that the next room has 3 bodies on the floor, one of whom is a Ghoul who will try and eat me. Thanking my younger self for remembering this, I tiptoe through the room. The book tries to inflict me with self-doubt, offering me another chance to check the bodies. Cruel mind trick book, very cruel. Not falling for it, I press on.
What follows is a series of corridors and Ian Jackson getting himself hopelessly lost. Although, unlike me, I imagine he wasn't amused by this but rather pissed off. On numerous occasions I am asked whether I wish to check for secret passages, but something makes me decide I can solve this maze without doing so. Eventually I stumble across some Dwarves playing cards, who give me directions. I am as convinced by this as I am by the argument that Jimmy Carr is actually funny, so do not bother to take note of them. I once again wander around various corridors, finding not even a gnat to excite myself with. After a decidedly not-short while, I find the room with The Minotaur in that befell my younger self all these years ago. This time, it's personal! This time, I kill the bastard. Hooray! Turns out he was guarding a key numbered 111, which I happily pocket.
I find a cave I haven't been in before with a Dragon. Joy unconfined! Using my Dragonfire spell, I leave the Dragon squealing in agony whilst I strut past it feeling like a total bad-ass. I then come across an old man sitting with his cards, who is quite blatantly Zagor. However, I decide to let Ian use a tactful approach and greet him courteously. He's not buying it though, and fixes me with a fierce glare. Gulp.
|I've been expecting you, Mr Bond...|
Feeling lucky (And being so) I recall the villager's tales of the Warlock's cards and the power they give him. Feeling rather sadistic, I gleefully set them alight with my lantern while watching Zagor slowly grow weak before my very eyes. (Insert evil laugh here) Unfortunately, he still has enough strength to fight, so we enter an epic duel. Well, I wish it was epic. The weakened Zagor only managed to land a single blow on Ian Jackson. I then find the Warlock's chest of wonders, only to have my adventure come to an end because I only have 2 keys, and require 3. Bugger. The book informs me I sit on the chest balling my eyes out. Oh grow up! I'd much rather die an honourable death, or even turn into a Giant Scorpion. Either is a better alternative to the lame end I had. I bet Steve Livingstone would have found all 3 keys...
Although I may seem rather grumpy throughout the above playthrough, I did enjoy Warlock. It was essentially a classic dungeon crawl, with all the frustration and jubilation when you eventually find your way out. My journey through the book was as follows:
I visited 104 DIFFERENT paragraphs, so over 25% of the lot, which isn't bad. I had a few fights:
Snake - Skill: 5 Stamina: 2
First Orc - Skill: 5 Stamina: 4
Second Orc - Skill: 5 Stamina: 3
Barbarian - Skill: 7 Stamina: 6
Zombie - Skill: 7 Stamina: 6
Zombie with Scythe - Skill: 6 Stamina: 6
Zombie with Pick - Skill: 6 Stamina: 6
Zombie with Axe - Skill: 6 Stamina: 5
Minotaur - Skill: 9 Stamina: 9
Warlock - Skill: 7 Stamina: 12
Nothing ridiculously nasty at all, a quick glance through the book reveals there are no Skill 12 monsters at all. Could this be the only FF book without one? Right, it's time for...
HOW MUCH FIGHT WAS IN THIS FANTASY?
|This time Google spares you all|
my shocking photography.
Illustrations: All 3 covers I own are pretty interesting, with the Warlock either looking menacing or deceptively peaceful on them. The interior illustrations have a slight 'old' feel to them, if that actually makes any sense. They're not flash in any way, but they have that classic feel which only added to my nostalgic feel whilst playing through Warlock. Most of them are very nice, with my favourite this time being the Dragon. 8/10
Monsters/other NPC encounters: There are very few friendly NPC's in this, the only ones I found being those Dwarves who gave me directions. (I wonder whether they were right?) I expect the Boatman may have been nice, but without being able to afford his services I doubt he would have been too generous. The monsters feel like a guided tour of all the classic fantasy creatures; there's Skeletons, Zombies, Vampires, Goblins, evil Wizards, a Minotaur and even a Dragon. There are no real unique monsters that are particularly eye-catching, but I think Ian and Steve did a good job of including all the classics they did. 6/10
Storyline/Plot: Hah. There is none. You're an adventurer searching a mountain filled with evil creatures owned by an evil Wizard for a pot of gold. That's basically it. There is barely any character development within, although perhaps it is better for Zagor's first appearance to keep him as mysterious as possible. 2/10
Difficulty: I think because it was the first one, Ian and Steve were keen not to put people off by putting in ridiculous item hunts or monsters who'd kill you if you hadn't rolled amazing stats. Ok, I missed a key somewhere (A search through my 25th anniversary copy reveals I was close - Just before meeting the Barbarian I should've found a room with an Iron Cyclops in) but at no point did I feel I was going to die on the next paragraph. That Iron Cyclops had 10 skill, so with a few lucky dice rolls this can quite possibly be done with the weakest initial scores. 3/10
Seal of Approval?: It's the original. It's not the best. But Warlock has that real nostalgic feel to it, even if it is probably because it was my first FF book. Ian and Steve hadn't reached their best yet, as some of the paragraphs are very short with little or no description, but despite the fact that when you rip this book down to it's bare bones there's not much there, Warlock is an enjoyable dungeon crawl. Therefore I tentatively decide it just about gets the seal of approval. Just.
|Oh god it's back...|